Review: Knight and Day ★★

Knight and Day (USA, 110 min)
Dir: James Mangold; Writ: Patrick O'Neill.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano.
Makin’ movies is a risky business. Just ask Tom Cruise. Cruise, once the top megastar of Hollywood blockbusters and acclaimed awards baiting dramas, is now scraping the barrel in an attempt to resurrect a once-thriving career. It’s hard to sympathize with Cruise because his fall was due to his own reckless antics and not some career damaging bomb à la Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. This is frustrating because Cruise has always been a likable actor. He’s proven himself a great action hero in films like Mission: Impossible and Minority Report, and he’s delivered deep mature performances in films like Born the Fourth of July, Collateral, and The Last Samurai. He should have won the Oscar for Magnolia.

Unfortunately, if Cruise wants to make a comeback, Knight and Day probably wasn’t the best choice of project. Knight and Day, a fairly mindless action comedy, is by no mean’s an “actor’s movie.” The film mostly consists of stylized car chases and overly choreographed shoot-outs. In the hands of director James Mangold, whose haphazard resume includes Walk the Line, Identity, and 3:10 to Yuma, Knight and Day is almost a mechanical exercise in genre. Despite throwing in an assortment of explosive action sequences in an array of exotic locales, Knight and Day never really attempts to do anything new.

What’s worst about Knight and Day is that while the film itself never seems to try, Cruise’s performance reeks of desperation. His Roy Miller is a cocky and volatile super spy, and Cruise overplays it so much that his character becomes arrogant and annoying. Rather than needing help from Cameron Diaz’s June, he really just requires a healthy dose of Ritalin. He spends most of the movie jumping off bridges, hanging off cars, and swinging from chains with such off-putting enthusiasm that he may as well be jumping on a couch. Cruise also gives the camera one overconfident grin too many, and if anyone deserves a hand of applause for Knight and Day, it’s Tom Cruise’s dentist. (The man has great teeth!) Cruise’s desire for the audience to embrace him gives the movie an awkward self-awareness that disrupts the escapism usually afforded by senseless summer movies.

Cruise does have great chemistry with Cameron Diaz, though. Their flirty scenes, especially those earlier in the movie, are genuinely fun. Diaz is a welcome comic relief as June, the bubbly blond who accidentally gets roped in to Roy’s mission. Roy is protecting a zephyr, which is a super cell of everlasting energy, and he is defending Simon (Paul Dano), the geeky young inventor of the energy source. Roy and June are on the run from CIA agent Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) and Director Isabella George (Viola Davis). As Fitzgerald, Sarsgaard offers a few nasty hisses, and Davis’s strong personality and husky voice make her an intimidating presence, but neither actor is given much to do. Diaz is really the only actor who isn’t wasted, and her sparkling ditziness almost saves the movie.

It’s regrettable to lay so much of the blame on Cruise for the movie’s failure because the film itself is such a mess. At times, Cruise does shed his overconfidence and allow Roy to be a charming rogue character similar to those of his past roles. Cruise also earns some Brownie points for performing many of his own stunts – it’s apparent that his inner action hero isn’t dead, but maybe is just waiting for a better movie in which to show itself. If Cruise takes a lesson from Knight and Day and reins himself in for his next role, he will certainly prove that his days of thunder are not yet over.